In Review

Hansard review: a darkly comic sparring match

Hansard, National Theatre: a darkly comic sparring match

★★★☆☆

Don’t let the name throw you; this is not really a play about politics. Set in 1987, it’s about a fictional Tory minister in Thatcher’s government returning home to his wife and having an almighty row. Think a sort of posh, British, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 

At least that’s what the set-up would lead you to anticipate, but in the end Simon Woods’ new play doesn’t quite meet those lofty standards. While he does get the audience roaring with laughter, the uneven pacing means we’re left waiting too long for the final, dramatic pay-off.

Robin Hesketh (Alex Jennings) is returning to his Cotswolds home from Westminster during the week in which the government enacted Section 28 – the notorious amendment that banned schools and local councils from “promoting” homosexuality”, and sparked massive protests.

His wife, Diana, has over the course of a 30-year marriage grown so far past disillusioned with her husband’s politics that she viciously skewers them – and him – at every opportunity. He meanwhile, relentlessly tries to explain himself to her, as if giving a painfully patronising “introduction to politics” lecture series, all the while accusing her of simply being too “psychological” a person.

The darkly comic sparring match that makes up the play, which is only an hour and a half long and has no interval, has some golden moments. Diana (Lindsay Duncan), pinpoints an all-too familiar problem with British politics, when she says “the insatiable desire of this country is to be f***ed by an old Etonian”. Yet the scripted quips about “Guardian-reading” and “theatre-going” types are a little tedious. 

As the play progresses secrets are unearthed from every corner of this marital home, all while the couple slowly prepare Bloody Marys and cook toast on the Aga.

Argument which begin as political soon turn to the myriad relationship crimes committed or perceived by the pair over the years. But Woods gets bogged down in the one-liners, and takes too long to get to the revelations. And when the flood gates finally do open, everything happens a pinch too quickly for the audience to fully digest and appreciate.

The emotional climax of the story is powerful, however, and acts as a showcase for the skills of both Jennings and Duncan, who are cast impeccably. Under Simon Godwin's direction, they flip from withering wit to overwhelming sadness in less than a single beat, leaving a lasting impression. 

Hansard has a rewarding and thought-provoking finale. It’s just a shame it doesn’t quite manage sustain its audience while getting there.

Hansard will be showing at the National Theatre until 25 November. Tickets here.

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